Donald Trump has held very few consistent positions since he began running for president in 2015. The one that stands out? His relentless bashing of the media as “fake news” and insistence that Republicans tune out all forms of mainstream media.
“It is amazing what’s happening to the discredited media like CNN, MSDNC, New York Times, and Washington Post,” Trump said in a statement released from his Save America PAC earlier this month. “Their businesses have dropped off a cliff, which is actually a very good thing for the American people, because they are Fake News (likewise the networks, ABC, NBC, CBS).”
His six years in public life are littered with just that sort of over-the-top rhetoric, with few actual facts to back his wild claims up.
No matter. A new Pew Research Center analysis shows that the number of Republicans who say they have “a lot” or “some” trust in national news organizations has been sliced in half over the last five years.
In 2016, 70% of self-identified Republicans said they had at least some trust in national news organizations. That number is now 35%.
And in 2020, trust in the national news media fell off a cliff. Almost half (49%) said they had a lot or some trust in the mainstream media in late 2019. That marks a 14-point drop on the question in less than two years.
That precipitous decline is directly attributable to a nonstop – and largely one-way – attack on the idea of the media and, even more broadly, capital “T” truth.
Remember that Trump told us exactly what he was up to back in 2018, speaking to a VFW gathering. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” Trump told the crowd. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
He wanted to be the sole disseminator of information – and “facts” – to his base. That desire was driven by selfish and political concerns: Trump wanted to create an alternate reality in which he was winning at everything from the economy to immigration to even Covid-19.
That such a concerted effort would have disastrous and even deadly consequences – witness the number of unvaccinated Americans unnecessarily dying from Covid-19 – didn’t concern Trump. Vilifying the media, he believed, was a means to his desired end: winning reelection and/or burnishing his political (and personal) brand among the hardcore Trumpist base.
The Point: When history books are written about the legacy Trump left behind after his turbulent four years in office, his assault on truth – and the role a nonpartisan media plays in society – will be its defining trait.